POEM: ITHACA (ITHAKA)

One of Jacqueline Kennedy’s favorite poets was Constantine(C.P. Cavafy). When Caroline Kennedy edited a collection of poetry, The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I read  Cavafy’s “Ithaca” (or “Ithaka”) when I purchased the book one summer in New York. It is a beautiful poem read by Maurice Tempelsman at Mrs. Kennedy’s funeral in 1994 at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York City.  

In my letter published in the Graland “Headlines,” I alluded to my “setting out for  my Ithaca.” If I were to give a speech on my last day at Graland School, I would pilfer Kelly Gaudet’s autographed copy of the above-named book and read it -- I shall spare you. This poem is so important to me I have asked a former student to read this poem at my funeral:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
 
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
 
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.

But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

I would have no Ithaka to which I might return without the guidance, patience, and love of the students, parents, faculty, staff, and the mice that nibbled on my grammar drills in the old Upper School building.

This is my brief, spectacular moment or, if you will, my valediction.
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Graland Country Day School

55 CLERMONT STREET    DENVER, CO 80220    303.399.0390   
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.